Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bulgarian-Bagpipe Body-Beatin' Banjo-Bloggin' Blues


It has been quite a couple of weeks. I performed blues and standards with a jazz quintet in an intimate concert hall and then sat on the other side of that stage a few days later listening to jazz pianist Fred Hersch. I joined the standing ovation for the Keith Jarrett Trio ovation in Zellerbach and then stood on the stage on the other side of a standing ovation at the World Music Festival, having played bagpipes and xylophones. I blew my bagpipe again at the Intery Mintery Halloween celebration at my school, a ritual with 100 kids and no audience and later told a spooky story accompanied by banjo. I walked up and down the magical swirl of kids and adults on Belvedere Street on Halloween, a neighborhood tradition of trick-or-treat with a twist. I taught a Body Music workshop and will perform again this Sunday with the Salzburg group at the International Body Music Festival. I gave an Orff workshop to 15 teachers in Cupertino, combining kids' games like One Potato with new theories of motivation, brain rules and models of how to wrap education around the way children actually think and feel and move and learn. And of course, I played piano for and with my friends and mother at the Jewish Home for the Aged.

From the giant concert venue to the intimate concert to the casual gathering around the piano, from the school ritual to the neighborhood celebration to the participatory workshop, from the 3-year olds to the 93-year olds, the folks of all races, classes and ethnic backgrounds, from the bagpipe to the body to the banjo to blues piano, the two weeks have been a microcosm of everything I care about and have spent time working on brought to harvest, a cornucopia of color and magic and mystery in all sizes and shapes of communal celebration.

I love the concert format, a time to set aside the practical details of the daily round and devote yourself to pure listening. (The word “audience” comes from the root audio, ie, “the act of hearing.”) Such venues, however, are a relatively recent invention of human culture. Throughout most of our history, and still today in cultures and cultural pockets worldwide, music and dance are more community participation than passive listening. I’ve loved every concert I’ve attended and given this Fall, but the classes with kids and the Orff workshop with adults where we all make music and play together is where my heart is.

We need both. But I’m more interested in musicalizing all of society and that requires a lot more than just buying concert tickets or downloading tunes. We need the folks at the top of the aural food chain who devote their lives to mastery of sound and the intricacies of form and we equally need to join the circle ourselves and sing what we can and clap and dance and create music as we are capable. And may I report that in four decades of releasing people’s sleeping musical selves in Orff workshops, we are more musical than we think. With the right kind of guidance and structure, people who have never practiced a single instrument more than 15 minutes at a time can come up with surprising and supremely musical creations.

What a pleasure to both teach and perform, to join hands in the circle and stand up on the stage, to gather around the piano and sit in awe in the audience. It’s been a marvelous two weeks indeed.

PS If you want to exercise your creativity, I’m offering a contest. Who can write a song with this refrain? “ I got the Bulgarian-bagpipe body-beating banjo-bloggin’ blues…”

First prize— a Bulgarian bagpipe. 
Second prize—two Bulgarian bagpipes!
Third prize? You guessed it—two bagpipes and a banjo!

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